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The American Colossus Nobody Understands: Local Chambers of Commerce

Christopher Mead has a piece up over at New Geography that looks at the role of local chambers of commerce in the progressive era. At the birth of the blue social model, much of the impetus for key progressive reforms came from these associations of mostly local, mostly small businesses.  This comes from research he has been doing on a vital subject the conventional historians of our time resolutely ignore: the role of business and associations of businessmen in American history.

Via Meadia will be returning to the subject of business and the progressive era as we continue our look at the ongoing restructuring of American society as the blue model breaks down. We expect that once again associations of American businesses, like the local chambers of commerce (not the same thing as the US Chamber), will play a major role in pushing local reform and development beyond progressive ideas. Historically, local chambers of commerce have been perhaps the single most significant force spreading best practices and new ideas across the country.  Virtually all conventional historians ignore this — much to the impoverishment of our knowledge of how America actually works.

Chris Mead, by the way, is yet another scion of the Venerable Mead and the Grand Matriarch and we are glad to see him up on the web. We expect this is not his last post.

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  • Anthony

    The relationship between actors, i.e. local chambers of commerce, and the institutional structures are important factors in behavior of chambers. Historical context provides explanation of how structural change (the association of businessmen and the role of business) affects particular events….

  • Kenny

    Well, I’ll say this. In Ohio, the Chamber of Commerce has been running TV ads for some time now bashing our leftwing senator, Sherrod Brown (Democrat) for his support of ObamaCare.

    Since Brown is up for election in November, such a factual presentation of the man’s record should hopefully lead to his defeat.

  • Marty

    In California, the local chambers are fragmented and not particularly effective politically. It may be that, like many of the institutions discussed in these pages, they are based on an out-of-date model. While the state Chamber is willing to get its hands dirty politically, the local ones tend to shy away from overt activism. Thus the business “community” has had only a marginal impact on the on-going decline of a once great state. We started Small Business Revolution to explore a better way to engage effectively.

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    The Chamber of Commerce in Pasadena, California is indicative of how such organizations can be co-opted by the unions. The Board of Directors of the Chamber (not the members) are stacked with union representatives and non-profit agency representatives. This is partly the consequence of living in a de-industrialized community with mainly a service economy.

  • Glen

    Princeton economics professors Thomas C. Leonard has written extensively on the economic history of the Progressive Era. In particular, he has focused on the “deeply illiberal strain in American progressivism,” and its “origins in anti-individualism, statism, social efficiency, and planning by scientific experts.”

    Leonard, Thomas C. (Tim), American Progressivism and the Rise of the Economist as Expert (July 2006). Available at SSRN:

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